The evolutions of the “f” word

I used to cringe at the sound of the “F” word. It is a word exclaimed – not just said – under the most undesirable circumstances, such as when your finger gets caught in the door.

When a group of Laurier Brantford students and faculty formed the F-Word Committee last year, they gave the phrase “‘F’word” a whole new meaning – one that has made the word a proud member of students’ daily lexicon.

No, I’m not talking about the four-letter expletive. Neither am I talking about Steve Anderson’s documentary in which various people experimented with pronouncing the afore-mentioned word in different ways (and do little else, I might add).

I’m talking about “feminism”.

The feminist movement is said to have begun around the 18th century when middle- to upper-class women started demanding suffrage and political rights. The movement has since gone through several waves and different phases of development. There are now a myriad different feminist groups advocating for a nuanced range of rights for women.

Although I was vaguely familiar with their history, the issues and rights advocated by these groups always remained at a distance from me. The “feminist ideology” was a very cerebral concept; it brought to mind images of butch women sporting crew cuts and shouting “Equality for both sexes!” I can’t imagine how their crusade could possibly have anything to do with my life, be it as a student, as an immigrant or as a Muslim minority.

Then the Harper government introduced tax-cuts that substantially reduced the financial support formerly afforded to women in Canada; this includes women’s groups dealing with immigrant women, aboriginal women, victims of abuse and seniors, to name a few.

The F-Word Committee members organized themselves and sprang into action. They might not have been able to reach as far as Queen’s Park (or can they?), so they decided to do something at the local level. They held seminars, workshops and movie nights that, for me at least, effectively transformed the feminist movement from an ambiguous ideology into something more concrete.

I have since come to appreciate the causes championed by feminists of the past; I realized that their successes will have an influence on my paycheque when I graduate. I learned that my male counterparts have an equally large role in the feminist movement; their insights taught me that the conversations I have with my brothers can determine the way they treat the women in their lives.

I also discovered the on-going struggle happening right next door to Brantford – the aboriginal women whose identities hinge upon who their mothers chose to marry, thanks to the archaic laws laid down by British colonials centuries ago. Lastly – and this is by far the most interesting discovery for me – I learned that there is a slew of Muslim feminists who draw their inspiration from the teachings of Islam, the faith that I claim to be so passionate about.

The single-syllable expletive is now the farthest thing on my mind when I mention the phrase “the ‘F’ word”. Even better, I’m starting to hear the terms “feminism”, “feminist” or “feministic” echoing in classrooms and in unofficial circles on campus.

I wonder if there are there other words or expressions that could benefit from a similar transformation.

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